Posts from the ‘Shared Leadership’ Category

What’s my action “lane” for racial justice?

Sofia Van Cleve and Jessica Wong / October 2020

(This is part 6 in our racial justice series. Read more in: our introduction, taking a systems view, getting proximate, defining goals, and taking stock as an individual and organization)

Summer 2020 was heavy— full of lament, anger, and grieving injustice. We mourn the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and so many others. Whether this summer was a wake up call for you, or you’ve been part of the racial justice conversation for a while, you know things need to change. You have passion and determination to make a difference. But, like us, you may be wondering what you should do. What is your role in the movement for Black lives (particularly as an ally)?

As we discussed earlier in Blue Garnet’s racial justice series, the first step in taking action for racial justice is to determine where you’re going, then to take stock of where you’re starting. Now, you need to decide which route to take to get to your destination. In other words, what means you need to reach the ends, or what strategies you should employ to accomplish your goals. That’s what we want to explore here— looking at individual action. (We’ll explore organizational strategies in our next essay.)

We’ve heard it said that “anti-racism is like a highway.” This movement has multiple lanes, entrance points, and speeds. But we’re all heading in the same direction—toward greater equity and justice for all. There are multiple “lanes” you could drive in, but some are more strategically aligned to your interests and skills than others. To figure out which “lane” you should take in the racial justice movement, ask yourself:

  • Where do I have influence and interest?
  • What are my strengths?
  • What is an ambitious, yet feasible, “lane” for me?

Firstly, you need to understand where you are interested in making change, and how you have influence in that area. In another Blue Garnet essay, we shared The Racial Equity Institute’s “Groundwater Analogy” to explain the disparate outcomes we see by race across systems in America. Recognizing that racism affects the “fish,” “lake,” and “groundwater,” there is work to be done at each level.  Do you act at the “fish” level, like feeding your houseless neighbors? Or do you work in advocacy for hiring reform, the “lake” level? Or are you addressing the toxic “groundwater” beneath, tackling racism across systems? Where do you naturally operate? Where does your organization work?

Consider where you are today, and where you want to be. What injustices make your blood boil? Where does your passion lie? Where do you feel most fulfilled when you serve others? If you love working one-on-one with people, you can meet immediate physical needs. There is a huge opportunity there. We do encourage you, however, to also support those working on policy change, so that there can be fewer hurting people in the future. While you may not be the one skilled in lobbying for changes in police funding, for example, you can bolster those who are “driving in the advocacy lane” and vote* for policy change. Also, look for ways to partner with people across the “lanes” of the social sector. Can you bring together players across issue areas? You can call someone working at a different level of systems change to get their perspective on your new program. As a funder, you can use your power and influence to create a space for dialogue between community leaders, churches, academic institutions, government, and nonprofits. As individuals, we need to work both in our individual lanes and partner with other lanes, to make this a lasting, sustainable movement for racial justice.

Secondly, your natural strengths should inspire and fuel your involvement in social justice. At Blue Garnet, we take a strength-based approach to our team development and client engagements. If you’re not familiar with the CliftonStrengths, learn more here. The Strengths themes are divided into four domains: Strategic Thinking,  Relationship Building, Influencing, and Executing (see below).

Source: Gallup, Inc.

We’ve been brainstorming how these Strengths connect to the racial justice movement, and have some suggestions.
For example, if your strengths are in…

  • … Strategic Thinking, you might naturally think big picture about structural racism, and help others do the same. You could also learn about the historical context of racism, and teach others. Dream about what a truly desegregated system might look like. Ideate with others on how to make that dream a reality
  • … Relationship Building, you are most at ease using your empathy to connect with people. You could sit with marginalized people and hear their stories. Volunteer as a tutor in an under-served school. Build connections across sectors; introduce people who can work together or help each other
  • … Influencing, you gravitate toward using your voice to speak truth to power. You might communicate to your network how you’re voting on a specific ballot measure, and why. Share your opinion at a public commissioner’s meeting, or use your social media to advocate for a specific petition
  • … Executing, your instinct is to make things happen. You might arrange the puzzle pieces amongst stakeholders toward a common social justice goal. Create a list of anti-racist goals for yourself, or rally others to help do so at your organization. Keep entities accountable to taking action on their DEI statement (whether your own org or tweeting at big corporations.) You could focus your efforts around one specific system or cause

These are just our initial ideas and one way of looking at Strengths. Let us know if you have more thoughts on how Strengths intersect with anti-racism!

Thirdly, be honest about what “lane” is aspirational, yet feasible, for you. You should feel challenged out of your comfort zone, but still be able to move at a sustainable pace. After all, anti-racism is a marathon, not a sprint. Your “lane” on this highway will inevitably look different than someone else’s. That is a good thing. We need all the lanes, and you have a unique role to play. Remember to check in with how you’re doing, too. You can’t keep driving if you run out of gas. This highway is challenging, winding, foggy at times, stormy at others, and full of roadblocks. You might be tempted to take an exit and go back to the comfortable side streets. Rest, then keep going. But keep driving—learning, advocating, donating, partnering, meeting needs, and voting*.

As you can see, there are many routes to take toward the goal of racial equity. For Jessica, she wanted to learn more about advocacy and policy change at the “lake” or “groundwater” level, after attending a Racial Equity Institute workshop last fall. She thought she could use her Activator, Futuristic, and Responsibility strengths in combination with her strategic planning experience from Blue Garnet to walk alongside an organization that was working in systems change.

The perfect opportunity and a natural “lane” arose for Jessica to join the Executive Council at the Children’s Defense Fund of California. She loved how CDF-CA envisions and works toward a future where “a child’s ability to lead a healthy and successful life is not determined by race, ethnicity, family income, zip code, gender, sexuality, home language, ability, health needs, immigration status, or involvement in the foster care or juvenile justice system” (Shimica Gaskins, Executive Director). That’s their ends. Their means? Advancing policies, serving children, and inspiring activism. (You can learn more and support CDF-CA’s systems change efforts here.)

We hope these ideas and examples help narrow down the myriad of “lanes” for you. If you want thought partnership on finding your role in the racial justice movement, just ping us. We’d love to chat!

Let’s keep driving for justice together.

 

* Here are a few of the California ballot guides we’ve been using: CalMatters, League of Women Voters, Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, and Voter’s Edge

Taking Stock: Turning Inward on Your Racial Justice Journey, Part 2

Shannon Johnson / September 2020

For more on racial justice from Blue Garnet, check out our other essays in this series: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Welcome back to Part 2 of this “Taking Stock” essay. Part 1 focused on taking stock as an individual. Now that we’re all self-aware leaders (ok…at least have started our personal journeys), we are better equipped to lead our organizations through the transformational change to center racial justice.

“Taking stock” at the organization-level starts with addressing 5 key questions:

  1. How has systemic racism impacted your organization?
  2. Who are you hiring, and how are you orienting and developing them to support a culture of racial equity?
  3. [For philanthropies] Who are you funding, and are you investing in organizations led by people most proximate to the challenges of their communities?
  4. How are you resourcing your efforts to center racial equity?
  5. How will you manage this organizational transformation to center racial equity?

One quick note before we dive in. Think about who needs to be “at the table” when you’re answering these questions.  A poll during NP Quarterly’s “Beyond the Board Statement: How Can Boards Join the Movement for Racial Justice?” webinar showed that while 70% of participant organizations had issued a public statement addressing racial equity since the murder of George Floyd, only half (52%) of those organizations involved their board in framing it.  Your organization cannot make transformational change without the support of your board. They need to be involved of the process if you truly are going to center racial justice. Ok – back to our five questions:

Q1: How has systemic racism impacted your organization?

Even if your organization’s mission does not explicitly tackle racial justice, look at your mission, programs, and history through a “racial justice lens.” Ask yourself – how has systemic racism played a part in our history? How has it impacted our constituents? Staff? Leaders? Who has benefitted and how? Involve your board and staff, and acknowledge that searching for this truth is going to get uncomfortable.  Once you’ve acknowledged this history and context, you can start to figure out what to do about it.

A good example is The National Park Conservation Association. Last year, it published its Statement of Intentions which included: “We also know our visionary founders marginalized certain people. We were not always on the right side of justice; we helped pioneer the concept of public lands but excluded important voices in the creation of national parks and our organization. And many of our national parks and public lands were created by forcibly removing those who called them home. That history cannot be unlived, but facing these difficult truths allow us to do our best work going forward.”

Let’s be honest about our history, then commit to changing the path of our future.

Q2: Who are you hiring, and how are you orienting and developing them to support a culture of racial equity?

Who is more equipped to fight for racial justice than those who have experienced the trauma of systemic racism firsthand? Moreover, there is a multitude of studies showing the benefits of workforce diversity, including increased innovation and financial gains. Having a diverse workforce (or at least adopting policies to work towards increasing diversity) is also a tangible symbol of your authentic commitment to centering racial justice.

One way to get real data and hold yourself accountable to equitable hiring practices (and funding practices, too!) is to conduct a “Diversity Audit.”  In order to do so,

  1. Articulate who your constituency specifically is (e.g. all African American youth in the City of Los Angeles).
  2. Beyond your constituency, discuss other ways is it important for your organization to be diverse, including – but not limited to – race/ethnicity, gender, age, income level, sexual orientation, physical and cognitive abilities, religious beliefs, immigration status, etc.
  3. Gather your “baseline” diversity data for how many of your board, management, and staff fit your prioritized diversity/social justice categories.

Beyond recruiting a diverse board or hiring a diverse workforce, you need to think about retaining them. Will your culture and norms allow Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) members of board and staff to bring their authentic selves to work, or will they be required to adapt to a white-dominant culture, or serve as the token voice for their entire community? Do your salary and promotion policies ensure equity across marginalized populations? In answering these questions, check your retention numbers. Without realizing it, you may be struggling to retain diverse talent with valuable perspectives and ideas that you worked so hard to bring in. If you do happen to lose diverse team members, be sure to conduct an exit interview to better understand why.

We know that collecting sensitive information like this is not easy. It may help to keep the data anonymous, share only consolidated totals, and communicate that the purpose is to promote racial justice.  Or you can hire a third party like Blue Garnet to help collect and draw insights from this information for you.

Once you know the “baseline,” set diversity targets for where you want your organization to be in the future. Then make an action plan for how to get there, and hold yourself accountable to results.

Q3: For philanthropies, who are you funding, and are you investing in organizations led by people most proximate to the challenges of their communities?

“Fund us like you want us to win” was a rallying cry to philanthropies from South Los Angeles community leader Gloria Walton, at a Southern California Grantmakers conversation we attended back in June.  This quote really hit home for us. While the social sector may be well-intentioned, philanthropic redlining exists. A recent Bridgespan report found that organizations led by People of Color win less grant money than those with white leaders. And budgets for white-led organizations were 24% higher than those led by People of Color. We want to lift up Ms. Walton’s rallying cry to every philanthropic ear. It’s time to do the work – to transition your DEI statements to grantmaking decisions.

Start by taking inventory of your past grants. What does board and executive leadership look like at the organizations you fund? How does that compare with the communities the grantees serve? And how do you make it easier (or harder) for organizations led by community leaders to access and ensure your partnership? This simple step can help open eyes to implicit biases that exist in your organization’s grantmaking.

Similar to Q2 above – once you know your funding diversity “baseline” – review and adapt your policies, set future diversity goals, and develop an action plan to achieve them. (Pro Tip: You can conduct a diversity audit for your grantees using the same approach above).

Q4: How are you resourcing your efforts to center racial equity?

As we all know, transforming your organization to center racial justice takes significant time and resources. If you are making a genuine commitment, you need to allocate appropriate staff capacity and budget to support the process of transformation. Think of your budget as a “moral document,” as it illuminates your organization’s true priorities. Take a look at yours and consider if you’re “putting your money where your mouth is:”

  • Do you have funds for emergent, equity-focused strategies (e.g. programmatic changes, advocacy)?
  • Where are the funds for on-going equity training for staff, leaders, and Board members?
  • Take a deeper look at your compensation across gender, race/ethnicity, age, and other social justice characteristics. If you find implicit bias in your compensation practices – do the work to make it right.
  • Do you have funds to hire people or consultants to help inform and execute this transformation? Most organizations are stretched thin already. Simply adding these responsibilities to someone’s already full plate will reduce the likelihood of achieving your results.

Question 5: How will you manage this organizational transformation to center racial equity?

For most organizations, centering racial justice is a significant, foundational change that will require thoughtful, strategic change management. Every organization will encounter resistance and roadblocks, because change is hard. Each individual transitions at their own pace, “letting go” of the way things used to be. Kotter’s 8-step process (see visual) is a helpful framework to execute transformation. Additionally, working to create shared leadership and an inclusive culture will provide a stable foundation to see this change through.

We know that “taking stock” is just the first step in a long journey to center racial justice. Blue Garnet is on the same journey. Though we may have started our journey earlier, we’re still learning, too. What steps have you taken (or want to take)?  Let us know if you need a strategic thought partner to take steps towards racial justice and to manage this change at your organization.

For more on racial justice from Blue Garnet, check out our other essays in this series: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.1.

Just Ask: Going to the Source for Real Learning

Way-Ting Chen / July 2020

(This is part 3 in our racial justice essay series. Read more in our other posts: introduction, taking a systems view, defining goals, taking stock)

I have a postcard from 2008 that came with a book called Seeing Beyond Sight. It’s a book of photography taken by teenagers who are blind or nearly-blind. This postcard shares a simple, yet powerful, interchange:

Question to blind student photographer: How do you not cut people’s heads off in a photo?

Answer: Just ask the person where they are.

It’s as simple as that– you ask them. All the advanced technology and research analytics, the business theory and social work courses, the talk of growth mindset and emotional intelligence… It all comes down to this: You ask them.

Over the years, the power of this message remains strong, and is internalized in the way Blue Garnet pursues our work. We support our client and other community partners in asking questions to a full range of stakeholders– grantees, participants, beneficiaries, customers, staff, volunteers, etc. The purpose is always to learn, in a real and useful way.

So here we are. Society is at an inflection point, and I find this message even more resonant and relevant. Our sector is asking: What is the impact of systemic racism on those that we serve? On those with whom we partner? What biases do we hold and extend when recruiting staff and volunteers, including Board members? How do we ensure that our work goes beyond immediate service of our mission, and pivots toward antiracist, groundwater solutions? (see our last blog) Though our questions may have evolved, the way to find answers remains the same: You ask them. Or, as lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson puts it, you “get proximate.”

Effective learning requires being intentional about to whom and how we ask our questions, and also what we do with the things we hear. Getting proximate often means going beyond the first-level analysis (in the consulting world, sometimes called the “Survey Monkey summary”). To really learn and take action, it is critical to look deeper and disaggregate data. And be wary of stats that paint a broad picture for the whole population, like a country’s GDP, infant mortality, and unemployment, graduation, and literacy rates. When we dig deeper into the data, we often see different stories by segment—like how COVID disproportionally affects Black and Brown communities.

For various reasons, the social sector tends not to prioritize ongoing learning from primary sources. Or, perhaps more accurately, fails to allocate the resources needed to truly get proximate with critical issues and marginalized groups. In contrast, for-profit companies frequently and regularly invest significant dollars on “market research” and the “user experience” (UX)– to them, it’s a matter of keeping abreast of often-changing customer needs. Many in the social sector instead lean on ad hoc experiences and personal assumptions of community needs, or the ‘listening’ notes from a strategic planning process 5 years ago.

Of course, that is not true of the entire social sector. There are myriads of ways to get proximate. Below are just a few examples of how our partners have invested in engaging “the source,” and how their learnings helped them better their organizations and pursue their missions. (To prompt your thinking, I included a few pointed reflection questions.)

Here’s what getting proximate can look like:

  • A nonprofit serving people with disabilities, ensuring access was not a barrier to hearing participant voices. Their first client and patient survey in years was delivered in multiple languages (English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Tagalog, etc.) and modalities (electronic, paper, and person-assisted), accommodating various levels of ability.
    • How do you consider and combat ableism when developing surveys?
    • How far are you willing to go to ensure that marginalized voices are heard?
  • A funder supporting scholarships and career-development for first-generation college students, creating safe spaces for feedback on its program. Results from our focus groups with participating students directly clarified the theory of change, helped inform program ambition, and grounded funder and program partners’ expectations.
    • How do you ensure the voice of your beneficiaries are at the table, when evaluating program impact and refining its design?
    • How do you conduct stakeholder engagement in a way that is understandable and relevant to the audience, while yielding honest and informative feedback?
  • A regional funder under new leadership, establishing a baseline understanding of internal capabilities, culture, and challenges. By engaging a third party and offering creative incentives, their first staff survey secured 100% participation, allowing us to analyze the confidential results by departments, tenure, title, and other characteristics. Insights gathered helped focus and prioritize leadership’s internal work in the first year.
    • Where are potential pockets of both energy and dissatisfaction in your organization?
    • How do staff of varying perspectives experience your organization differently? To what extent do race, gender and other characteristics affect these experiences?
  • A local university, engaging formal partners and local neighbors to address a thorny town and gown issue. Gathering input from across the stakeholder spectrum, we conducted intercept surveys from surrounding neighborhoods. Disaggregating data geographically built a richer understanding of the impacts, challenges, and priorities of different areas.
    • What is the impact of your work on those around you?
    • Is it the same or different across stakeholders? How do you know?

Remember, going to the source is not a one-off thing. It takes genuine commitment, willingness to invest in the process, and discipline to follow through. It’s hard work, yet absolutely necessary to build buy-in and maximize your impact. So, let’s continue to invest in the process of learning. Let’s go to the source. Let’s make sure we are getting proximate. As the credo often used by disability advocates goes: “Nothing About Us without Us.” After all, democracy is a process, not an outcome.

Does this jog your thinking? Do you have more questions, or are you ready to get going? Please let us know at hello@bluegarnet.net! We’re just a (virtual) conversation away.

Local Leader Spotlight: Beverlyn Mendez, Easterseals Southern California

June 2020 / Sofia Van CleveA picture of a woman, Bev Mendez

At Blue Garnet, we are honored to partner with passionate leaders who are working hard to tackle the most pressing social inequities of our time. In our Local Leader Spotlights, we celebrate one of these wonderful leaders. This month, I (Sofia) chatted with Beverlyn Mendez, COO at Easterseals Southern California. Easterseals (hereafter, ESSC) works to change the way people define and view disability, and provides services to people with disabilities. Blue Garnet has been working with Bev and her team for the past two years on strategic business planning and implementation. We are continually inspired by Bev’s kindness and wisdom, and we hope to share some of that with you today!

Blue Garnet (hereafter, BG): Bev, you’ve worked at ESSC for 30 years, which is truly remarkable!  What’s your WHY? What makes you get up and go to work every morning?A snapshot of ESSC services
Bev: The ability to contribute and lead at Easterseals is very fulfilling to me personally; it really is a tremendous organization. Our team here has a combination of heart and talent that is so unique. This also describes our participants and families. There’s such an incredible synergy that goes on within the organization that makes it an amazing place to work.

I am also passionate about our services! ESSC supports people with disabilities throughout their lifespan (see Figure A.). Personally, inclusion and community living for people with disabilities also drives me. I went back to complete my doctoral degree several years ago and wrote my dissertation on the role of disability advocacy in deinstitutionalization. (more on this in a minute!)

BG: ESSC is meeting this moment with COVID-19 head on (ESSC blog here). Could you share about ESSC’s approach and innovation responding to the pandemic? And challenges you’re facing?
All our services have continued in unique ways. Like all organizations now, we’re leaping forward with technology in remote services and telehealth, like providing Applied Behavior Analysis, Speech, and Occupational Therapies and Social Skills Groups remotely. Across sectors, barriers to remote services have eroded. We’re moving forward to fill gaps and meet people’s needs where they are. That means reaching out to people in their home environment, and in the case of our Child Development Services, also providing resources like food, formula, and diapers to families to help meet basic needs during the crisis.

It is harder to reach some individuals during this time, though, including those who live in large congregate settings. They are more intensely affected by the pandemic; they’re more isolated and at higher risk of infection. We usually support these individuals to be active in their community through our Adult Day Services. In the midst of the pandemic, people who live in institutional settings are the hardest to reach, and that’s heartbreaking.

We have learned a lot, though, during this time. As people begin to go back to their regular routines, we want to carry forward what we’ve learned in remote services and telehealth. We want to continue and build on this creativity and new ways of connecting.

BG: Like this example you shared, we’ve been talking at BG about how the pandemic illuminates cracks in our systems to a broader audience—surfacing inequities in technology access, job security, affordable housing, food security, etc. How else has the quarantine revealed systemic inequities for people with disabilities?
Isolation is a significant issue for people with disabilities across all age groups, and it’s further intensified by the pandemic. ESSC supports people to be a part of their community, to engage with others, find jobs, and develop friendships. Obviously, this has been a challenge for everyone under the safer-at-home orders. But that isolation is not new for people with disabilities, and it’s just further exacerbated now. Similarly, families who have children at home (with and without disabilities) have been under far more stress during this time, and this is even more of a challenge for parents who have children with disabilities.

BG: In a way, the rest of the world is experiencing a glimpse of the challenges people with disabilities face daily. With this new empathy, is there anything our readers can do to support people with disabilities now or post-COVID?
Yes! We encourage everyone to be inclusive and to make all opportunities as accessible as possible (
resource here), including book clubs, classes, or other activities you’re organizing. At ESSC, our vision is to make Southern California the most inclusive place for people with disabilities to live, learn, work, and play. That means people can help make everything from schools, jobs, social experiences, and housing more inclusive.  We are passionate about what happens when people with disabilities are included.

BG: You just mentioned ESSC’s vision for impact developed last year: “By 2030, Southern California will be the most inclusive place for people with disabilities to live, learn, work, and play.” (info video here) How have you seen that start to play out? What has been the initial reaction you’ve received?
We were just wrapping up our launch of our new vision for impact, then COVID hit! The initial reaction has been extremely positive. During the pandemic, our whole org needed to pivot to support people in new and dynamic ways. We quickly realized, though, that we were putting all the guiding principles and strategies from our Strategic Business Plan to good use. We were excited to tell Blue Garnet “The plan fits! It’s working even during a global pandemic!” We’re living out our plan to expand our services to more people, provide leadership in the disabilities field, share learnings with other organizations, and change the way people view disabilities. The plan continues to guide us, and has sparked even more creativity across the organization. If the plan got us through a global pandemic, we know it will continue to serve us well.

BG: Wow, that’s so exciting to hear! Thank you for sharing that. After working with Blue Garnet for almost 2 years now, what was the most valuable part of your experience?
Two things come to mind. First, your strengths-based approach of looking at the whole organization. As all orgs, we do have areas we want to improve, but the strengths-focus resonated with us because it mirrors how we approach working with people with disabilities. Secondly, your level of engagement across our organization. BG reached deep to connect with our participants, families, community members, and funders. That process of reaching all our key stakeholders was extremely helpful for us! This input guided our strategies, and continues to guide us to make sure we’re doing what is most important for people with disabilities throughout Southern California.


We hope that learning more about Easterseals and the challenges people with disabilities face moves you to greater inclusion in your personal life, and louder advocacy for equal access across all spheres of society. Let’s be includers!

For more info on Bev or ESSC, click here. To connect with Blue Garnet, feel free to drop us an email at hello@bluegarnet.net.

Blue Garnet Alumni Spotlight: Giselle Timmerman

By Jessica Wong

December 2019

Curious about what Blue Garnet “alumni” are up to? We’re thrilled that most keep working for meaningful social change, often around the world! Today we want to highlight Giselle Timmerman, who joined the BG team in 2007 and continues to work as a Blue Garnet affiliate with positive psychology and strengths-based coaching. In 2012, Giselle moved to Barcelona, Spain with the love of her life. I (Jessica) caught up with Giselle at the end of October where she and her family were celebrating the castañada (chestnut festival) instead of Halloween!

Q: What have you been up to recently—besides raising two girls and exploring Europe?

A: Outside of being a wife and mother, I wear three additional hats. Globally, I’m an executive coach for Fortune 1000 companies whose headquarters are located all across the globe. I love using my gift of coaching to connect with managers and VPs from Silicon Valley, Boston, Taiwan, Australia and Ireland. Locally in Barcelona, I facilitate team development trainings on resilience skills, thriving through change and communication skills for managers. I also teach two classes at a local business school. For my “Managing Change and Organizational Health” class I was able to create my own curriculum and come up with new ideas on how to keep college students awake at 8:30 a.m.!

Q: Like us, we know you think of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) as including strengths. Could you share more about how you think strengths play into the role of DEI in an organization?

A: It’s nearly impossible to be inclusive without appreciation of diversity. Diversity in background, education, gender, ethnicity, nationality, immigrant generation, working + thinking styles, religion/spirituality, skills and strengths.

To me, inclusiveness is leveraging differences to achieve better performance results. Our strengths are a natural way where uniqueness of thinking, feeling and being are valued. Fostering a sense of belonging starts with creating inclusive behaviors within a team that clearly magnifies a person’s uniqueness. “What is the purpose of my role in the team? What are the strengths I bring to the team? When have others noticed me using my strengths?”—questions like these can help an individual feel seen and connected.

All of this culminates into a better understanding of how individuals contribute to functioning as a well-rounded team.

 Q: We’re also thinking a lot about gratitude at this time of year. What advice do you have for practicing gratitude in your daily life?

A: I have a journal next to my bed where I often write down three good things that happened. There are oodles of research on the importance of gratitude for our daily and long-term happiness. The research tells us that the frequency with which you write in a gratitude journal isn’t so important, but that it’s more impactful if you write down why the good thing happened.

At “Friendsgiving” this year, I’ll bring out my vase full of “gratitude questions” (printed onto little pieces of paper). We pass this around at some point and everyone shares their answers out loud. It’s interesting to have specific questions and it’s fun to see how different cultures and nationalities respond to the questions (there are at least five different nationalities at most of these meals).

Q: What are you currently reading (or listening to)? Any recommendations for our fellow social impact geeks?

A: Other than SSIR, other resources I enjoy are: Work Life TED podcasts by Adam Grant, Berkeley’s Greater Good Center Newsletter and Squeezing the Orange podcast by Professor Dan Cable and Akin Omobitan.

Q: What do you miss the most about LA?

A: Mexican food and flip flops!

Q: Looking back, how does your time at Blue Garnet impact you today? What were some of the biggest learnings or takeaways from working at BG?

A: There are so many! One of the first things BG taught me was to ask the “so what?”  Now, within my work I’m pushing further to ask “now what?” Now, after a strategy has been decided upon, internally I’ll ask myself, “How can I help enable a behavior change within my clients that propels energy and commitment forward?”

At Blue Garnet, I also learned how to be more strategic with my thinking. I coach my clients to think through the big picture, connect the dots, and balance thinking about the short term versus the long term.

 


We’re thankful for Giselle, who significantly impacted the DNA of Blue Garnet by introducing us to positive psychology and the use of strengths back in 2007. We continue to engage Giselle in our existing work on culture with our clients. She also helps sharpen our practice around leveraging our individual strengths and working collaboratively as a team with diverse strengths. We’ll keep crossing our fingers that she’ll move back to Los Angeles someday soon. Until then, I think it’s time to visit her and explore Spain ourselves. Who’s in?

Feel free to reach out to us at hello@bluegarnet.net if you’d like to connect with Giselle and the BG team! Or feel free to comment with a note to Giselle and we’ll make sure it gets back to her.

Also, as we’re heading into the holidays, we encourage you to take some time to reflect on a couple of Giselle’s “gratitude questions” (BG has made our own vase of “gratitude questions” now, too!):

  • What about today has been better than yesterday?
  • Who has helped you become the person you are today, and what’s the top thing you’d thank them for?
  • What’s the best thing about your home, and have you taken time to enjoy it recently?

A brief moment for reflection and encouragement

By Way-Ting Chen

My 25th year college reunion was a couple of weeks ago (those of you who know the Blue Garnet founding story know my business partner Jenni Shen also hails from Swarthmore, and she was lucky to attend the reunion). I was disappointed to have missed it, and all the fun and nostalgia that comes with seeing people for the first time in decades, and (re)discovering who they have become in the meantime.

That said, while I missed the in-person fun, I caught some glimpses of the reunion virtually. One post by an onsite classmate included a comment made by the president of Swarthmore College, Valerie Smith (see right). And it gave me pause.

This call to action challenges us to turn inward and examine our own mindset, assumptions, biases and behaviors, even as we collaborate with others to make the world a better place.

Reading this filled me with pride at being part of an institution that would invoke this challenge. More importantly, it relates to an important point of view that Jenni and I intentionally built into our work at Blue Garnet:  No one goes at it alone. It’s the team’s blend of individual strengths that makes us powerful.

The work of social change asks a lot of each of us. And no matter how hard we may try, we alone are not the answer. It takes longer and more energy to do the internal homework that makes each of us comfortable with complexity and ambiguity, in order to effectively join forces with others in pursuit of social change. Yet, this is what we need to do – individually, as a team, and in collaboration with our community.

The process of effective systems change and business model transformations must be inclusive and can be trying. For me, when I am “stuck” in the struggle with no obvious way out, these words remind me that the conditions are ripe for creativity and, potentially, a new path forward:

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,

we have come to our real work

And when we no longer know which way to go,

We have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

~ Wendell Barry

This summer let’s make time for internal reflection and external aspiration, so we can break through the struggle, and in community with our partners, all be the better for it.

 


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Millennials, the Future, and your Workplace

By Sofia Van Cleve and Shannon Johnson

At Blue Garnet, we have a motto: Think long-term, plan for the short term. We want people to think about strategies and solutions for not only today’s needs, but also needs in the future. To what extent do you know the future needs of your team? Your clients? Your community?

It’s a heady question, but we are here to help. While many people tend focus on the tech changes ahead— like the double-edged sword of innovation, technology, and Big Data— we urge you to also consider the changes in people ahead. Namely, Millennials. We think it’s worth your time to learn about this generation, so we compiled some of our learnings and takeaways from recent market research for a corporate strategy project, culture assessment for a regional nonprofit, and “DEI” discussions and workshops.

Millennials are already the largest generation in the labor force and they will become the future leaders of our organizations and our country. Millennials are:

  • Those born between 1981 and 1996*1
  • Now largest generation in the labor force—over 56 million working or looking for work2
  • More educated and racially diverse than previous generations1
  • Urban: they flock to urban areas for the lifestyle benefit and job opportunities, despite higher cost of living3. Also, more Millennial families live in cities than in suburbs4
  • Purpose-driven: companies that prioritize innovation and societal improvement via their business lower Millennial employee turnover and increase loyalty5

And they value…

  • Inclusion and diversity emphasized in the workplace—(including perspective, culture, and lifestyle)5
  • Flexibility: many attracted to the gig economy for flexible schedules and lure of supplemental pay5
  • Experiences: Several successful brands appeal to the younger audience using experience marketing, creating physical spaces for connection and community6

What does all this mean for your workplace? Between volunteers, board members, leaders, and staff – workplaces often are comprised of 4, if not 5, different generations. It can be challenging to work across them to create shared leadership. Be honest, have you ever heard or thought: “Ugh! Millennials are taking over!,” “Why do Millennials feel entitled to such extreme work flexibility?” or “Why can’t Millennials get off their phone for a second?”

It’s important to acknowledge (and even say out loud) that different generations have different norms, values, and “pet peeves”7. However, you can equip yourself and your team to work through the conflicts and determine how to best engage and employ workers across all generations.

Here are some questions7 to mull over at your next coffee break (or matcha break, in true Millennial fashion):

  • How can you expand your conversations to prepare for the future? By focusing and aligning discussions around your organization’s desired future impact, individuals across generations (not just Millennials!) are more likely to be engaged and motivated to make it happen. Pro Tip: make sure you start with together defining a common language about impact.
  • What does the future look like for the people you serve? How will you listen to, learn from, and include your constituents in addressing their changing needs? And what does this mean for your team?
  • To what extent have your leaders evolved their leadership styles? Emerging norms are for leaders to champion change and build a purposeful culture. Sometimes that means creating space for younger people to challenge, innovate, and teach.
  • How do your culture and services factor in generational preferences? How often do you look without blame from different perspectives at your strategies and workplace? In what ways do you seek, listen, and learn from the input of others? How do differing perspectives come to a decision in a healthy way?

We hope this entry sparks some creative thinking on building a healthy cross-generational culture at your organization. Let us know your reactions and experiences related to these questions?

 


Notes:
* According to Pew Research Center, though exact cutoff birth years for Millennials is contentious in generational theory
Source 7: “When Your Normal is My Trigger: Working Successfully Across Multiple Generations in the Workplace and the Link to White Privilege;” 5/21/19 presentation by Barbara Grant and Linda Nageotte at Washington Nonprofit Conference

A holiday hello from Way-Ting

As we near the end of 2018 and reflect on a very full year, I wanted to share a thought that I hope will carry you through the winter holidays and into the new year.

Back in September, at the Southern California Grantmakers conference, speaker john a. powell (Director, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society) spoke at great length about “Othering,” or what he defined as THE problem of the 21st Century. The intervention that combats Othering, he said, was Belonging. This resonated deeply with me, and has taken my thinking around diversity and inclusion to a new level.

We all long for a sense of belonging: familiarity, acceptance, and welcome. There is comfort and safety in knowing that you and your loved ones belong in your “tribe.” For my children, I hope this sense of belonging translates into the type of love and fearlessness that will move the world eventually.

In some sense, this is also what we strive for in the social sector—that those we serve would belong and thrive in their communities. From helping a child with a disability access therapeutic services, to developing the symbiotic connection between humans and our natural environment, to geeking out on how to institutionalize organizational capacity being built, Blue Garnet’s client work would not succeed without a “belonging,” of sorts, between us and our client partners.

Here at Blue Garnet, our network of relationships reflect a range of our intrinsic passions and “learner” interests. As a result, we belong to multiple “tribes,” or communities, so to speak. Whether it’s building an inclusive B-Corps community in Los Angeles, learning with NNCG’s popular DEI series, communing with our charter school peeps at ExEd, or contributing to the SCG evaluation and learning group, we are grateful to belong to diverse and intersecting communities of change makers.

My Swedish-American teammate Sofia tells me that the Swedish word for belong, “hör hemma,” has the root word “home.” In this holiday season, we hope that you “hör hemma” at home with your loved ones. Remember: we are all in this together—change, renewal, impact, justice. Let’s continue to strive for Belonging in 2019!

 

Happy holidays from all of us at Blue Garnet!

Way-Ting

 

Hearts of Garnet—Swarthmore Spotlight

By Way-Ting Chen

At Blue Garnet, we celebrate Thanksgiving together every year with a “leftovers lunch” the week following the holiday. At this year’s lunch, I was especially grateful for my (and Jenni’s!) alma mater, Swarthmore College, which played an integral role in the founding of Blue Garnet. Jenni and I met and quickly became friends at Swarthmore, where we honed our passions and abilities for lasting social change. After graduating, we were roommates in New York before moving to opposite coasts, going to business school, and landing at competing management consulting firms. Yet both of us felt called to make a difference in our community, together.

Blue Garnet was born in 2002, named with a nod to our beloved alma mater, whose symbol is The Garnet. As a semi-precious stone, the garnet also represents honesty, loyalty, and true friendship. We wanted to pay homage to Swarthmore, for its role in bringing me and Jenni together, and for helping to make us the change agents that we are. Not only that, when we started the firm, a rare garnet was found in Madagascar that in certain lights looked blue or green. We loved that idea of transformation and change—it worked beautifully. We are proud that Blue Garnet resembles a “mini-Swarthmore” through its ethos, team of learners, and small-by-design environment, which reminds us of where we came from and where we still want to go.

To learn more about our Blue Garnet origin story and Swarthmore, click here to read the Swarthmore College Bulletin article.

 

Jennifer Li Shen and Way-Ting Chen, co-founders of Blue Garnet

Blue Garnet’s pro tips for every social enterprise

 

By Sofia Van Cleve

Building an impactful social enterprise is far from easy. Through the ups and downs of Blue Garnet’s 15+ years working in social impact consulting and building our own social enterprise, we’ve learned some huge lessons in social entrepreneurship the hard way. In late April, we had the chance to talk about these learnings at Social Enterprise Alliance-LA’s new event, the Professional Services Night. Along with six other volunteering organizations—spanning social media, tech, law, and strategy consulting—Blue Garnet was happy to provide our pro bono help to the participants.

 

The creativity and passion we saw during the night got us super excited about new social enterprises in LA and wanting to share some tips with social entrepreneurs at large. Our co-founder, Way-Ting Chen, and the attendees explored how to improve their existing organizations or build their entrepreneurial dream with an eye for impact. Daniel Nash, a music composer and web designer, said Way-Ting’s help was “Phenomenal—I got the next steps for my business idea and steps down the line that I had no idea about. She helped me think ahead and know what resources I need to connect with and when I will need them.” We loved chatting with people like Daniel (and not just because he gave us the nicest compliment in the entire world!), but we don’t want to be stingy with our advice. So we’re going “open source” with our recommendations, hoping they’ll help other social enterprises out there, too.

 

If you want to maximize your impact and develop a high-performing organization, you need to make sure your organization has the following four components.

What You Need to Know About Impact as a Social Entrepreneur:

  1. Organizational clarity: Start with the end in mind. What impact are you trying to achieve through your social enterprise? What are the top three things YOU need to do really well to get there?
  2. Shared Leadership: Bring others on board to do this together and build your team to complement your strengths.
  3. Healthy Economics: Align your business model to your goals by focusing on who your target client is, what you offer them that truly makes a difference, and how you can afford to do so over time.
  4. Accountability for Results: Define your 10 key measures of success related to both impact and performance. Gather and analyze relevant data for insight, then iterate your strategy.

It’s okay if you don’t have all of these right now. The good news is that you can build them over time. If you have questions or want to build these for your organization, please contact us at sofia@bluegarnet.net.

 

We hope that the Services Night and Blue Garnet sharing these four tenants of impact will inspire social entrepreneurs in LA and beyond!

 


A special thanks to SEA-LA and Danny Brown for organizing this event, and West Monroe Partners for hosting! Thanks also to Daniel Nash for your incredibly kind words (we’re still blushing!).


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